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We all remember the challenges of middle school, but our Community Schools students are weathering storms more daunting than puberty or unpopularity. They are coming of age in the poorest congressional district in the country – the South Bronx – where they have paid the price of poverty since before they took their first steps. With poverty comes gang violence, drug use, and prostitution at even higher levels than other low-income communities experience.
Alfredo, one 13 year-old student in our program, suddenly lost his mother to an Asthma attack, a disease that claims three times as many lives than the national average and afflicts 1 in 4 children in an over-industrialized neighborhood dubbed “Asthma Alley.” Her death prompted a move into a homeless shelter and a battle with hopelessness and depression.
Alfredo found hope in a place that many teens avoid – his school. It’s known as a Community School, where Sheltering Arms accelerates school turnaround efforts through high quality education and social, economic, and emotional development opportunities for entire families. At Jordan L. Mott Middle School in the Bronx, where Alfredo is finishing the 8th grade, we help train teachers and introduce new curricula. We offer 10 different therapy groups for students and families to process trauma. We also make referrals to housing, food, child care, and more resources.
“Since Sheltering Arms became part of our school, the staff have helped me with both parts of my life: family and school,” Alfredo explains. “Staff helped me to become the Student of the Month and get on the Honor Roll path again,” he adds.
By supporting Alfredo’s health and well-being, our Community School staff have removed his final barriers to academic achievement. For the first time in his life, he has a real idea of how he can fulfill his dream of becoming a doctor. As a doctor, Alfredo plans to research treatment and cures for Asthma, so that other children never have to lose a parent the way that he did. Alfredo will bring things full circle, but not in the way that poor kids typically become caught in a cycle of poverty. Alfredo is setting an example for his entire community as it strives for a new standard of well-being and development.